Fourteen Women Claim TSA Harassed Them for Wearing Hijabs at Newark Airport

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A patch is seen on the jacket of a Transportation Security Administration official as he works at the automated screening lanes funded by American Airlines and installed by the TSA at Miami International Airport on October 24, 2017, in Miami. TSA agents in New Jersey are accused of targeting a group of Muslim women because they were wearing hijabs. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Fourteen Muslim women in New Jersey are accusing Transportation Security Administration agents of racially profiling and discriminating against them at Newark Liberty International Airport. The women are demanding $100,000 each in damages, an apology and mandatory diversity training, a May 2 letter from their lawyer to Homeland Security revealed.

The women, who were waiting to board their Chicago-bound flight in December, claim they were targeted and harassed by TSA agents because they were wearing hijabs. The agents then searched through the women's luggage and patted them down for two hours, causing them to miss their flight, NorthJersey.com reported.

GettyImages-865881760
A patch is seen on the jacket of a Transportation Security Administration official as he works at the automated screening lanes funded by American Airlines and installed by the TSA at Miami International Airport on October 24, 2017, in Miami. TSA agents in New Jersey are accused of targeting a group of Muslim women because they were wearing hijabs. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Some of the women did not know each other prior to the incident, but all were wearing hijabs, which are Islamic headscarves. According to NJ Advance Media, the women claim a TSA agent announced that anyone on their 7:10 a.m. flight could move to the front to speed up the screening process.

When the women approached the front, they were allegedly pulled out of the security line and brought to the side. The women claim they overheard an agent refer to them as "2110s," an alleged code used for someone wearing a hijab, the complaint states.

"I don't even want to remember that day," Meriem Bendaoud, who was traveling with her twin 19-year-old daughters, Sara and Amina, told NorthJersey. "It was horrible. It took us two hours in front of everybody. It was disgusting. We were cornered, all of us."

The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is representing the women in the complaint.

In a statement to Newsweek, executive director James Sues said "these women were harassed and humiliated simply because they were Muslim." Sues said the cases highlight a trend CAIR discussed in a report about the increase of "anti-Muslim bias incidents."

CAIR civil rights attorney Jay Rehman shared a copy of the letter with Newsweek.

"The embarrassment and humiliation that our clients experienced at the hands of the TSA is incalculable," the complaint read.

The women were taken to another room without being advised about having a secondary screening done in private, NJ Advance Media reported.

"Suddenly and without warning, the TSA agents closed the doors behind the clients," the complaint said. "With the door closed behind them, the clients were now all trapped in what can only be described as a 'cage.' The cage had clear glass windows around all sides. What happened inside the cage was viewable by every other passenger entering security."

The complaint continued: "The clients noticed, with great humiliation and consternation that other passengers were pointing, laughing and taking videos of them. Like animals in a zoo."

The women accused TSA agents of roughly patting them down and using abusive language. The agents also refused to allow them to record the interactions. CAIR referred to the agents' actions as illegal under federal anti-discrimination laws.

TSA did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment. In a statement to NorthJersey.com, TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the agency's policies and practices are required to comply with civil rights laws and "must not discriminate against travelers on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, relation, age, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation and parental status."

Fourteen Women Claim TSA Harassed Them for Wearing Hijabs at Newark Airport | U.S.